Leadership: Leadership's Lost Art

New Zealand Management, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Leadership: Leadership's Lost Art


Byline: Reg Birchfield

Be honest! It's easy to look, Ozymandias-like, on the works of our leaders and despair.

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley's imagery of the "decay of the colossal wrecks" today re-created in our financial world, environment and war zones everywhere, is prophetic. The "boundless and bare, lone and level sands stretching far away" that entombed his "king of kings" seem just a few generations off.

The state of leadership here, there and everywhere is depressing. Leaders seem unable to cope with, or react imaginatively to life's increasing complexities and horrific disparities. Rather than make cause and effect connections, they respond with simplistic rationalisations, like those espoused by Vector chairman and Institute of Directors' (IoD) vice president Michael Stiassny who reportedly told a recent IoD conference that directors just need to toughen up.

The nation's corporate leadership is, he said, compromised by the combined effects of directors who've allowed a "culture of consensus" to infect the nation's board rooms and, "excessive public sector regulation" that's strangling profitability. He neglected to mention that New Zealand is still paying the $8 billion plus price of a deregulated finance industry and an even more expensive multi-billion dollar, deregulation-inspired leaky home disaster. The world is awash with superficial, command and control, self-serving leadership advice like this.

London Business School and Oxford University's Umair Hague, currently rated one of the world's 50 most influential management thinkers, believes the world is suffering a "great dereliction -- a historic failure of leadership, precisely when we need it most". We are, he says, surrounded by people who are "expert at winning -- elections, deals, titles, bonuses, bailouts, profits." These individuals are, we're told, the "ones we should look up to -- because it's the spoils and loot that really matter".

According to Hague, author of The New Capitalist Manifesto and Betterness, which describes a new model for capitalism, "true leadership is a lost art". Mere winners are not true leaders, he reasons. Gaming broken systems is a charade of living and, life is not a game. "It isn't about what you have, and how much -- but what you do and why," he adds.

Hague's great dereliction is characterised by leaders who are incapable of fixing our broken institutions. These institutions are in turn creating, among other things, a "lost generation, a planetary meltdown, a never-ending series of financial crises and mass unemployment".

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